Michael Xie - Founder & Director
LoPair Education offers au pair programs in China with the goal of promoting mutual understanding and intercultural learning in the world. The organization uses its core program, Au Pair China, to introduce foreigners to the culture, traditions, and beauty of China. Michael Xie, founder and director, leads LoPair in working with more than 20 international partners in five continents to bring au pairs to China and place them in cultural exchange programs with strong intercultural education components. Michael founded the organization based on his firm belief in the idea that education works best by “learning through living together”. His own experience as an exchange student abroad in Japan, inspired him to create similar programs for foreigners to join in China.
How did LoPair Education start and what inspired you to found the organization?
LoPair was founded in 2011 and is purely focused on au pair business. My inspiration for founding this organization can be traced back to my teenage years when I was sent as a high school exchange student to Japan for a few weeks, living with a single-mom family with four children in Fukui. The experience that I had was very unique and what I saw and heard was very different from what I had thought it would be like and from what I was told previously in textbooks. Since then, I firmly believe in the idea “learning through living together”.
After my graduation from Foreign Studies University, I worked in Beijing in the youth educational travel industry for several years, it was a time when the idea of au pairing was becoming more popular, thousands of young Chinese women went abroad thru this new type of program. At the same time more young foreigners were becoming interested in coming to China thanks to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and Shanghai Expo in 2010. So I was thinking of introducing this concept to the Chinese families by bringing foreign au pairs to China, that’s how we started this very “experimental” program in 2011, when the program was still very unknown to Chinese hosts as well as foreign youth.
What makes China the perfect destination for au pairs seeking international experience?
China definitely makes a perfect destination considering it is gaining more importance on the global arena in the recent years. Gaining a Chinese experience would mean a gateway to the “language of the future”, and a resume entry in the world’s largest economy, some 15 years from now on.
Thanks to the opening policy over the last a few decades that has made China prosper again. The political mainstream called for more exchange on a student and youth level, which has benefited the operation of youth exchange programs such as ours. At the same time, the infrastructure of modern Chinese cities, the more globalized vision, and wealthier stand of Chinese host families, as well as the cultural heritage that an ancient civilization has to offer, has made China an attractive destination for au pairs that want to visit and stay.
A dozen or so companies or organizations offer au pair programs in China. What sets LoPair Education apart from other providers?
LoPair separates itself from these other organizations in several ways:
LoPair is one of the initial members of China Au Pair Association which makes initial standards and regulations of the Au Pair in China program. We are very aware of these regulations as well international practices and have strictly followed these rules/practices. For example, we stick to the home-visit screening policy on the family side before recruiting the families or we make sure that every au pair has a paid extra holiday month. In the times where a program is still at a beginning stage in China, it is not easy to maintain these quality standards, but we do.
We see our mission is to create extraordinary experiences to both sides not just to meeting the demands for “child care” or “seeing China”. Therefore we introduced the idea of “user-experience” in our service, for example early 2013, we launched a so-called “LoPair mentor project” that offers extra consultation and mentoring throughout the program period. The “mentors” are experienced LoPair staff and long-time expats in China that have gained insight about cultural differences, good/bad experiences, and why they happened, so they will able to support the au pair as elder sisters. Besides, in each city where au pair resides our local coordinator greets them within the first few days in person and later check in every two to four weeks. This kind of intensive personal touch from our team has made us different compared to other players.
Also, we put educational components on a very high position. In addition to the 20-hour monthly Mandarin class, we are the first company in China that offers a three-day group arrival orientation and a monthly cultural course, featuring Chinese traditional cultural habits and customs. In 2014, we launched our Education Advisor project, in which the advisor always answers or reaches out to our au pairs about learning progress on their Mandarin classes, collecting feedback from the cultural course, and sending them newsletters on a monthly basis, etc. The idea of all of these in general are to provide more educational benefits to au pairs on top of the “learning thru living together” concept.
What is the biggest motivation for individuals to join your programs?
This question is often asked at our orientation sessions, the most common answers we get are namely “to strengthen their tie with China”, to put it in a general way. Most of our au pairs used to study Chinese, or are already studying a China-related major, or have been in China before as a tourist and wanted to revisit here. Some au pairs have Chinese blood and their parents used to live here.
We are sure that au pairing in China would be a perfect option for them to enhance their language skills, build cultural awareness, and learn more about China on a more in-depth level thru living with a host family in China, a closer China-bond!
How do you prepare and support first-time participants in your Au Pair China program?
We usually work with a dozen International Partners, who are well-established au pair agencies overseas, to recruit au pairs. We provide our partners with pre-screening materials, train their interviewers to better consult, and prepare their applicants. We also send out pre-departure info kits and a fun quiz for before the au pair flies in so that the learning process starts while they are still at home.
And of course, for the first time participants, especially those who have never been here before, our three-day group orientation setting plays an important role where we help them relax and rest, learn useful information about China, learn au pair skills, and set proper expectations for cultural shock or homesickness, all while meeting new au pairs from the rest of the world who could be their friends alongside their China-stay.
What is the number one thing interested participants should know about LoPair Education?
LoPair cares about our au pairs as much as we care about our families and their children. We want to create extraordinary experiences for them all and hopefully they will leave with fluent mandarin, many new know-hows learnt, and lots of good memories for this country and its people. We work hard to fulfill this vision.
Safety is a persistent concern in international travel programs. How do you ensure the safety of LoPair Education participants?
Safety is first of all assured thru accepting decent families in safe households by our local coordinators on the field. We also raise our au pairs’ and families’ safety awareness not only at arrival orientation but also though our constant follow-up calls and little reminders via group emails (e.g. typhoon alert, epidemic diseases, food safety, etc).
Very importantly, should bad things happen, we’ve sourced a good insurance provider that offers a professional au pair insurance, which includes coverage that ranges from travel, health, accident, liability, etc. They also have a 24/7 landline that can be reached in multiple languages, including Chinese, so that the families will able to help as necessary. The au pairs also have access to a 24/7 emergency mobile that is carried by our staff in the event an emergency.
How do you screen host families?
Families are screened mainly through phone consultation and house visit. It is very important for us to judge during the first call if the family has a proper motivation/expectation for inviting an au pair. When we have a successful talk with the potential family, we’d send our local coordinator within a few days. The LC will schedule a time where she/he can meet almost every family member living under the same roof to make sure everybody is in favor of becoming a host.
Also during the visit, LC will check on living conditions and neighborhood, making sure a cozy, independent room is prepared for the au pair. After the visit, LC will generate a report and it is up to the corporate team to decide if the family will be accepted or not.
At the beginning of application, the family will need to provide documentation of their national ID information as well as other certificates to identify themselves as legal residents in the community, which are essential papers in order to be processed onto the next steps.
How does LoPair Education make sure au pair-host family pairing is as close to perfect as possible?
A perfect pairing could not happen if there are only four or five au pairs/families on each side. Our priority is to enlarge our candidates-pool on both sides for the best matching possibilities. Based on a wider selection scale, we will able to meet many preferences from both sides. For example, families usually have preference over ages, country of origins, specific skills, etc., while au pairs sometimes have preference over ages of children and city location.
Our matching module sees a “multiple interview mutual decision” mechanism, meaning: au pairs’ profiles get reviewed by multiple families and au pairs can be interviewed many times before both sides say “this is the family/au pair” and agree to the match.
But no pairing is born perfect unless both parties try their best to understand and communicate with each other, we always hear Chinese families saying “I have perfect eye-affinity (a Chinese way of saying rapport or chemistry) with this au pair” after one interview, but these sometimes just don’t lead to perfect matches in the end of the day.
In what ways do you hope to expand programs in the future?
In the short run, we hope to recruit more au pairs that speak very good English from native English speaking countries as these are where our families demands are staying. In the long run, we would hope to increase the portions of au pairs from the rest of the world so the program will go back to its nature by adding more language and cultural diversities.
On the family end, we are serving currently primarily in Tier One cities (i.e. Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou). We definitely look to cover more Chinese cities so that this program will gain more popularity geographically.